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NFC WILD CARD: Falcons at Packers

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David Moore

David Moore has been the senior football writer for FOX Sports since Aug. 2005. He appears weekly on the FSN Baseball Report and MLB on FOX. One more line lorem ipsum dolor sit amet e pluribus unum.

 
   
 
Atlanta coach Dan Reeves remembers the last time he was part of a playoff game at Lambeau Field. It's frozen in his memory. The Ice Bowl between Dallas and Green Bay is a part of NFL lore. The temperature was 13 below zero that day. The wind chill was a numbing minus-48 degrees. The can expect a cold reception in Saturday night's playoff game with the , but not that cold. The temperature should hover in the low 30s or upper 20s by kickoff. The spirits of the fans — fueled by, what else, spirits — will be decidedly warmer. This is a game the didn't want to play. Green Bay had a chance to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs, skip the wild card round and give their banged-up, veteran starters some additional rest. The New York trashed that goal in the regular season finale and raised serious questions about how ready the are for these playoffs. It should be interesting, especially since two of the game's most electrifying quarterbacks — Atlanta's and Green Bay's — will be engaging in their second shootout of the season. The opened the season with a 37-34 overtime victory over the at Lambeau. MORE PREVIEWS: | |
NFC WILD CARD PLAYOFFS
Passing game: Electrifying performers
Vick established himself as much more than a running quarterback in his breakout season. He has a strong arm and throws an outstanding deep pass. But his accuracy did decline in the final weeks of the regular season as defenses kept an extra defender or two in coverage to confuse him. The receivers are average at best. (56-838) doesn't even rank among the league's top 30 receivers and he dropped a sure touchdown pass that would have given Atlanta the win in the opener. Favre is the game's ultimate gunslinger. He doesn't back down from any defense or anyone and will keep throwing even if he has an off day, which has been known to happen. It rarely happens, however, in the cold. Favre, this good ol' boy from Mississippi, is 35-0 when the temperature is 34 degrees or less, which it should be Saturday. The could be without leading receiver (bruised shoulder), but the team has good depth here and can compensate.
Advantage .
Running game: will lean on Dunn
don't have a 1,000-yard rusher. But they do have three players with more than 500 yards on the ground, and there's not another team around that can make that claim. emerged as the team's featured back in the second half, and his cut-back, pick-and-choose style is an ideal complement to the power style of rookie . Look for Atlanta to lean on Dunn since Duckett isn't completely healthy. Vick rushed for 72 yards the first time these teams met and is capable of a 100-yard game at the drop of a defender.
Advantage .
The rushing game isn't handled by committee. It's handled by . A big, explosive runner who ranks among the league's elite backs, Green rushed for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing two games and part of another with injuries. Green didn't rip off as many long runs as he did the previous season, but the offensive line didn't stay as healthy, either. Green did rush for 155 yards against Atlanta in the opener and is capable of dominating a game if Favre doesn't.
Defense: Opportunistic players on each side
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has installed the 3-4 scheme in his first season with the club and gotten results. leads a fast, hard-hitting group of linebackers that is the nucleus of a defense that has allowed an average of 19.6 points (eighth in the league). This is also one of the league's more opportunistic defenses, having forced 39 turnovers. Ten different players have intercepted a pass for Atlanta this season.
Advantage .
The make a lot of big plays on defense. They also allow way too many. Green Bay forced 45 turnovers during the regular season to lead the league in that category and its third down defense (33.9 percent) is very good. But Green Bay has also allowed more than 30 points in five games this season. The have a good secondary — weakened by the injury to safety (knee) — but a dreadful run defense, allowing an average of 4.8 yards a carry.
Special teams: Return game is key
drilled a 52-yard field goal with five seconds left to send the game into overtime the last time these teams met. But he's also missed some big kicks, too, including what should have been an easy 28-yarder in Sunday's loss to Cleveland. is a solid return man who played in Green Bay the previous two seasons.
Advantage .
The have posed no threat with their return game this season, which is why the club brought out of retirement. The result: after one year away from the game, Metcalf had three returns for a loss of one yard and a fumble against the . At least is a good field goal kicker.
Coaching: Sherman has Pack focused
Those who know Dan Reeves best say he seems rejuvenated this season. The chance to develop a young quarterback and put the franchise on solid ground for new owner Arthur Blank is a challenge he's embraced. The have exceeded the expectations most had for this team, and Reeves deserves much of the credit. Mike Sherman deserved strong consideration for Coach of the Year honors until that debacle against the . But one bad day doesn't erase what Sherman has accomplished over the course of the season. Despite losing 14 starters for a total of 62 games, he has kept the near the top of the NFC and focused on the Super Bowl.
Advantage .
Intangibles: Lambeau holds advantage
It can be argued that Vick is the ultimate intangible. He's arguably at his most dangerous when the play has broken down and there appears to be nowhere for him to go. Vick is that rare athlete who can make even a 10-yard completion compelling by avoiding three or four defenders and standing strong in the clutches of a tackler to make the pass. He is the X factor — and that's X for Xtreme. Some will argue mystique doesn't win football games. Maybe not. But we do know this: the have never lost a playoff game at Lambeau Field, going 11-0. The have won 21 of their last 22 games here with their only loss to Atlanta last season. That game was played in November and was 59 degrees at kickoff. This game will be played in January with a temperature below freezing. Big difference.
Advantage .

Senior writer David Moore can be reached at his e-mail address: dmoore@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Falcons, Packers, Jets, Michael Vick, Brian Finneran, Keith Brooking, Donald Driver, Brett Favre, Allen Rossum, Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell, Ahman Green, T.J. Duckett

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